Omaha Bound: Powerful Vols Flush Aces

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The top-seed Tennessee Volunteers flushed any chance the Evansville Purple Aces had at making NCAA history on Sunday night. The Aces became the first four-seed in NCAA Tournament history to beat the top overall seed on Saturday during Game 2 of the Knoxville Super Regional, edging the Volunteers by a score of 10-8. On Sunday, the Tennessee lineup seemed to follow suit of one another en route to a 12-1 victory that advances them to the College World Series.

While trailing by a run, Christian Moore hit a lead-off home run for the Vols. The blast went over the porches beyond right field at 115 mph and evened the score with Evansville at one. In the next inning, freshman Dean Curley and sophomore Dalton Bargo each hit a homer, leading to a four-run frame for Tennessee. The Vols never relinquished the lead, while holding the Purple Aces went scoreless the rest of the way.

Senior Cal Stark and junior Billy Amick also homered. Moore launched a second one off the batter’s eye. Junior Blake Burke added three doubles on four hits. It was an onslaught on Rocky Top, a day after being pushed to an elimination game.

A Motivated Response

If the brink of elimination wasn’t enough motivation, the thought of labeling the season as unsuccessful gave reason for some Vols to take exception, according to Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello.

“I’ll add to my opening statement, really picking up where we left off yesterday where somebody asked me a question that bothered one of my players, so I’ll have his back,” Vitello said.

Vitello is referring to a question from Saturday night’s post-game press conference. Here is the question that was asked:

Does tomorrow’s game weigh a bit more for you guys? Meaning, if you guys lose, will it be another unsuccessful season for you guys?

“The question was posed basically about our season and if we lose tonight, it’s all for naught,” said Vitello. “Blake Burke wasn’t too happy about it. Blake Burke has a lot invested in this particular program.”

Burke entered Sunday’s elimination game with 49 home runs and 130 RBIs in 175 career games for the Vols. He went 7 for 13 at the plate with two home runs and five RBIs during the Super Regional in Knoxville.

Tennessee’s collective power proved to be too much for the Aces, as the Vols blasted 15 home runs over the weekend. The Volunteers have hit 127 home runs inside Lindsey Nelson Stadium this season. Opponents have 43.

Pitching for Omaha

Tennessee senior Zander Sechrist stabilized an Evansville lineup that came into the night leading NCAA Division I in doubles (159). Sechrist tossed 6 1/3 innings, allowing just one run. He struck out six Aces and threw 70 strikes on 102 pitches. After the game, Vitello voiced the confidence he has in the senior.

“We watched him pitch in high school, and we said that he was going to pitch in Omaha,” Vitello said. “Just the way he competed and the way the ball came out of his hand. The players decide how confident you are. When it’s coming out of the hand like that and you’re moving around, there’s no doubt. At the end of the day, when you go home, if you’re going to consider it a deal if you’re okay with it if it goes well or it doesn’t, you want to put your head on the pillow and say, ‘I’ll win or lose for that guy anytime.’”

Evansville used five pitchers on Sunday, starting with freshman left-hander Kevin Reed. The first three Aces on the mound surrendered the 12 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings.

An Omaha Storyline

One spot in the lineup that the Vols continue to search answers for is at designated hitter. On Sunday, Omaha, Nebraska, native Dalton Bargo was inserted for that role. Bargo added another home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. It was an opposite-field shot on a 2-2 count. It was Tennessee’s fourth of the night. The Vols had seven total. It was Bargo’s 26th start of the season. If he gets the nod for another starting role this season, it will be in his hometown.

“It means everything to me,” Bargo said. “Ever since I was six years old, I’ve been going to games. It’s been a dream of mine to go since I was a little kid. Being a part of a team and being one of the reasons we are going back to Omaha is everything I could ever ask for. I’m just thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given and made the most of them.”

With the win, Tennessee advances to the College World Series for the third time in four seasons. It will be the program’s seventh trip to Omaha, where they will face Florida State.

Logan Quinton
Logan Quinton
Logan Quinton joined Baseball Prospect Journal in March 2023 as a College Baseball Writer focusing on the Tennessee Volunteers. Follow Quinton on Twitter @LDQsports.

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